Friday, January 23, 2004

Terrell's Tuneup: Does a Heart Well

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, Jan. 23, 2004

The government should require a warning sticker on the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart: “Caution, men shouldn’t listen to Track 11 (“Take Me Home”) if you’re drinking bargain bourbon because the woman you love just ripped out your heart and stomped on it.

Don’t ask. I just know.

And now the One From the Heart soundtrack is coming back to potentially haunt a whole new generation of lovesick listeners snared by the deceptively low-key jazz/blues musings by Tom Waits and his unlikely partner Crystal Gayle.

Yes, that Crystal Gayle. Loretta Lynn’s little sister. Waits, who wrote all the songs, chose her because he liked her late ‘70s country crossover hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” (And because he couldn’t get his first choice for the project, Bette Midler.)

The album -- with a couple of interesting if inconsequential bonus cuts -- is being re-released and should be in the stores Tuesday, coinciding with the DVD release of the movie, which stars Terry Garr and Frederic Forrest -- though I’d argue the real stars are Waits’ songs.

This is lounge music -- stand-up bass, smoky guitar, understated blue piano, brushy drums, a sputtering trumpet, a sax that’s hard to tell from a siren, sometimes even lush strings. But it’s lounge music with a bite. I’ve always thought it was Waits’ most overlooked treasures.

One From the Heart was originally released in 1982, the year before Waits blasted into strange dimensions with the Beefheart meets Brecht splendor that was Swordfishtrombones. The two records sound decades apart. Only the “Instrumental Montage” and the ominous tymps on One From the Heart hint at the inspired weirdness just ahead.

The songs generally follow the plot of the movie, which basically concerns the break-up and reconciliation of Garr and Forrest and the heartaches and attempted rebounds in between.

Thus there are Waits solo tunes, Gayle solos and duets. And whether he’s singing or Gayle, Waits makes sure that the songs ache.

Gayle never sounded so stark on her own records as she did on “Old Boyfriends,” where she croons over Dennis Budimir’s pensive guitar.

And she never sounded as emotional as she did on “Take Me Home,” the bittersweet reconciliation number. “I’m so sorry that I broke your heart ..,” she sings with enough emotion to break any heart within hearing range.

Though Waits back in the early ‘80s was known for his funny songs probably more than his love ballads, there’s only one humorous tune here -- “Picking Up After You.” Here Waits and Gayle trade barbs back and forth. The best line is Tom’s offering an important household hint: “I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again/don’t defrost the ice box with a ball point pen.”

Two decades later and this soundtrack has aged magnificently. Take it home, take it to heart.

Also Recommended:

Piosenki Toma Waitsa by Kazik Staszewski. There’s been a handful of Tom Waits tribute albums in recent years -- a couple of not surprisingly limp “various artists” compilations and a surprisingly good blues treatment by John Hammond called Wicked Grin.

But this growling Waits romp by Polish rock star Staszewski beats all.

It sounds surprisingly natural hearing a gutteral voice spitting out Waits tunes in a strange tongue as slightly out-of-tune horns blow and a meandering, abrasive guitar wanders in the background.

Waits fans usually hear the master’s music through a blues/jazz filter.
But also detectable, especially in his music of the past 20 years or so, are Old Country flavors -- Bertold Brecht fingerprints and Eastern European DNA. You can hear it in songs like “Cemetery Polka,” “Innocent When You Dream,” “Underground” and “I’ll Be Gone,” and the entire album Blood Money, which Waits wrote as a soundtrack for a theater production of the tragic Woyzeck a play about a Polish soldier by German poet George Buchner in 1837.

This is the ground Staszewski ploughed for this album. There are three Blood Money songs as well as the others mentioned above. (Actually there are more covers of Rain Dogs songs than anything else.)

Staszewski’s affinity for Waits’ music has been apparent at least since his band Kult’s album Tata Kazika. The album didn’t include any Waits covers (they were songs written by Staszewski‘s father). But Waits’ Grand Weeper/Grim Reaper spirit hovered above just about every tune.

Waits himself would surely approve of Kazik’s arrangements -- the Marc Ribot-like guitars, the clunky percussion, the Starvation Army horns.

But these songs aren’t exactly faithful reproductions. One of my favorites is the 8-minute version of “The Neighborhood,” which starts off with stray guitar grumblings soon joined by a greasy sax. The song threatens to break into a ska, until it slows down into a dirge and Kazik starts singing.

While this album should be required listening for devoted Waits fans, it’s hard to find in these United States. (I’m lucky enough to have a buddy with a Polish girlfriend.)

It’s on the web site for the record company. (Luna Records also has a Nick Cave live album I hadn’t seen before.) But unless you’re familiar with the Polish language and currency this could be difficult.

But you can order it from D&Z House of books, 5714 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60634. Their website’s in Polish, but the money’s in American ($15.95).

(For more on Kazik click here )

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